Work can be a pain in the neck

Simple equipment adjustments can save employers billions of dollars in lost-time injuries

Between 1996 and 2004, Ontario’s employers paid more than $12 billion in direct and indirect costs related to musculoskeletal disorders, according to the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Besides these serious, lost-time injuries, fatigued muscles, aching joints and burning eyes are often side-effects of working long hours at the office.

“When it comes to office-related physical discomfort, the culprit is often the overlooked, everyday office equipment,” says Kathy Kawaja, senior associate consultant and certified ergonomics expert at Toronto-based ergonomic consultant firm Human Factors North.

“Simple things like a computer monitor that is positioned too high or too low or a poorly adjusted chair can create strain and discomfort for many office workers, which can lead to decreased productivity and employee absences, which ultimately affect your company’s bottom line.”

Various elements of a person’s office environment including desk design, chair features and even lighting can have a dramatic impact on a worker’s well-being. Ergonomics involves more than just keeping the things you use frequently close at hand and in the right position. Ease of use should also be considered since well-designed products help employees work both comfortably and efficiently.

“When you consider how much time the average office worker spends sitting at a desk and working at a computer it’s no wonder that our overall comfort is easily affected by the office environment,” says Trinh Tham, manager, commercial marketing for office supply store Grand and Toy. “By choosing well-designed office equipment, employers can significantly improve workers’ health and productivity.”

Kawaja recommends implementing the following simple and easy solutions to minimize work strain and pain:

Hanging up on neck pain: One of the leading causes of neck strain is cradling the phone between the head and shoulder. A telephone headset can help eliminate muscle strain while freeing your hands for typing or writing.

Screen it: To minimize eye strain, ensure the computer monitor is 16 to 29 inches away. Invest in an anti-glare filter that attaches directly to the monitor to reduce the glare caused by reflected light.

Stretch it out: Taking a five minute break every hour to perform non-computer tasks and building frequent changes in physical demands into the work day isn’t just good for the mind, but for the body as well. Simple changes in posture like standing, walking, stretching the neck, shoulders, back and legs can help prevent muscle soreness and discomfort.

It’s all in how you sit: An important element of an ergonomic-friendly workstation is a comfortable chair. The chair should adjust to fit body type and should allow for arm rest, sitting height and back rest adjustments.

Positioning is key: Adjustable keyboard/mouse trays can be tailored to sitting height. Poorly positioned keyboards and mice can lead to sore wrists, elbows, shoulders and backs. However, using the wrist rests when typing or mousing actually causes extra pressure on the wrist/palm area. Learn to “float” the hands when keying and keep the wrist straight when mousing, then use the wrist rest when you are thinking, pausing or reading.

B is for belly button: Keep the “B” key in line with your belly button for better alignment and less stressful work postures.

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